A Cat is Self-reliant, Emotional and Highly Aware
Cats are excellent at hiding signs of illness and pain so as not to attract attention.As solitary hunters, this is an important mechanism to prevent predators from recognizing their weakness. Owners may not be aware that the cat is suffering.
The cat that survives on its own outside does not need feline company. It can hunt for itself, find its own den and defend its own territory. It can keep itself clean, its claws sharp and protect itself by being highly aware of its surroundings and using its agility, speed and strength to get itself out of trouble. Hiding or fleeing is preferred over fighting if a cat faces danger. Where they do live together, cats do not form structured packs like dogs and there is no dominance hierarchy among a group of cats. The assumption that cats need the company of their own species is based on human perceptions of sociability.
Cats can live in social groups, but only in specific circumstances such as feral colonies on farms or in areas where females are usually related to each other and there is enough food and shelter for larger numbers.
Kittens will be more likely than adults to accept new environments, new people and other cats or pets. If kittens are adopted in pairs, they will keep each other engaged with their high level of activity, especially if siblings. Kittens have to learn to be good hunters. They will play attack things that move or that resembles prey. Other pets and the people in the household are often targets of this unwanted behavior. Kittens of similar age can engage with each other while undergoing this very active period and this may defuse tensions in the household. It is recommended for kittens to be adopted as siblings or similar aged pairs so that their necessary activity doesn’t frustrate household members.
Kittens that have very strong play-prey behaviors can become problems as they interact with people and their aggressive play escalates, such as attacking ankles and legs. Play with other similar age cats or other animals can be a valuable outlet for these behaviors and head off problems later in life.
On the other hand, adult cats that have been by themselves or in a stable, long standing household are usually quite intolerant of new animals. That intolerance can often be seen in aggression or fearful behaviors. Often the aggression is subtle, such as blocking the path of another cat, or using posturing that might intimidate or stress another cat.We may not perceive these emotional states, but other cats may readily interpret facial and postural changes as social signals.
Cats are usually most content when they can dictate the timing of interaction with their owners and other humans. Allow the cat to come to you and it will be more comfortable and relaxed than having you choose when to handle the cat. Access to higher levels and places to hide will make cats feel more safe, more secure and may facilitate interactions.
Take Home Message
- Kittens need to be adopted in pairs. Adopting siblings is best since they have already formed a core group and have the same activity level.
- Existing adult or older cats in the household may be more likely to tolerate the adoption of kitten(s) rather than mature cat(s).
- Training with positive reinforcement techniques engages cats and kittens and gives them something to do in the artificial environment of our homes.
- While cats may choose not to be dependent and interactive with people, engaging them in reward activities might modify their response.
- Adult cats may not want a feline ‘friend’ as they are often content to live alone.
- Sharing territory with another cat can be stressful.
- Cats may not wish to be confined or reassured by cuddling.
- Cats can be stressed by unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.
- Like all mammals, cats are fast learners. Utilize this to redirect behaviors. Cats do not learn through punishment - verbal or physical! The best way to train a cat is through positive reinforcement of the desired behavior. Ignore or redirect the undesired behavior to a more positive behavior (e.g., toss a kibble in the other direction to distract a cat from something).
- Emotions and behavior can change very quickly. Cats may become aroused if disturbed or frightened.
- Routine and predictability in a cat’s life can reduce stress and improve quality of life.
- Changes in routine behavior (such as sleeping more or avoiding contact) can occur because of emotional change or may indicate health problems. The most common sign of a medical problem is a change in behavior.
- For cats, the need to keep themselves clean is very strong, so being deprived of the ability or opportunity to do so is potentially stressful.
- Cats are excellent at hiding signs of illness and pain. They tend to stay still and quiet so as not to attract attention. Owners may not be aware that the cat is suffering.